Iran General NewsWave Of Poisoning Attacks Against Schools Leave Hundreds Sick

Wave Of Poisoning Attacks Against Schools Leave Hundreds Sick


Iran has been shaken for three months by serial poisoning attacks against all-girls schools, which has left more than 1,000 children ill. While official media has reported the news since mid-December, the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei has remained mostly silent. On Monday, he finally made his first remark on the issue, saying, “If the poisoning of the students is proven, its perpetrators must be punished.”

Khamenei also called for “seriously pursuing” this issue. Parallel to this, government entities have expressed their inability to identify the perpetrators of these gas attacks on schools in the past few months and have repeatedly said that they have not found “clear leads”. At the same time, there are ample signs and evidence that the regime’s agents organize the attacks.

The growing wave of attacks

The gas attacks on all-girls schools in Iran started in mid-December from Qom and gradually spread to different cities. It has also included the university dormitories of female students and some boys’ conservatories.

According to the semi-official ISNA news agency, on March 5, The vice-chancellor of Ahvaz University of Medical Sciences announced “the increase in the number of students who have been poisoned today in Khuzestan province to 700. Five hundred have been discharged, and 200 others are still cared for.”

On March 4 and 5, more than 33 cities in more than 17 provinces of Iran witnessed poisoning attacks against students. In some towns, hospital emergency rooms were overwhelmed with sick students.

The United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva expressed concern over the publication of these reports on Friday, March 3, and called for a transparent investigation.

At the same time, reports and pictures published on social networks during the past few days show security forces and authorities beating parents who had gathered at schools to protest the attacks. But protest rallies against the regime are expanding in many cities, where parents, students, and concerned citizens are outraged by the regime’s role in the attacks.

“Public Hysteria”

Some government-linked media and officials have called the chain poisoning “mass hysteria” and have tried to downplay the situation. In an article on Monday, Kayhan newspaper republished parts of the reports from Tasnim and Fars news agencies linked to the IRGC, which claim that Iranian students were not poisoned but suffered from “public hysteria”.

According to Keyhan, “by heavily promoting news about poisoning attacks, the media and some social networks have created a sense of public fear or hysteria. Such news has caused some students to experience anxiety and psychological distress, which could lead to physical symptoms that mimic poisoning, even from usual everyday causes.”

As per a state-run television report, a school was reportedly closed due to the disruptive behavior of students who feigned illness from poisoning.

Yousef Nouri, the Minister of Education, claimed on March 5, “Now you see that they have worked on the issue in foreign media that this problem is due to social and psychological issues.”

Regime president Ebrahim Raisi considered these attacks on students a “conspiracy of the enemy”, and other officials attributed it to “external factors”.

At the same time, Kayhan newspaper, affiliated with Ali Khamenei’s office, called for “summons and interrogation” of the commentators about these serial poisonings.

An orchestrated act

But Shahriar Heydari, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the Majlis, admitted on Monday, March 6, that the poisoning attacks are “a completely organized act.”

“Its factors and elements are internal. Even if its origin is outside the border, which has yet to be proven, its executive capacity is domestic,” Heydari said.

On March 6, the Didban-e Iran website quoted Massoud Pezeshkian, a member of the Healthcare Commission of the Majlis, as saying, “How can the security system, which investigates, follows up and arrests in the shortest possible time if a problem occurs, not see this case?… The failure of the country’s security system to deal with the perpetrators is questionable and unacceptable.”

There are several reasons to believe the regime itself is behind the attacks.

First, it claims that its security and surveillance apparatus is capable of finding crime suspects with very high accuracy. During the nationwide protests in September 2022, the regime quickly provided security camera footage and other evidence to incriminate citizens and convict them of crimes. But since the poison attacks began, the administration has failed to produce evidence of the crime despite its heavy surveillance hardware nationwide.

Second, students and schoolgirls have been a thorn in the regime’s side since the protests began. While it deployed state security forces and Basij units to universities to suppress students, it could not do the same to high schools and elementary schools. And schoolchildren have continued to hold anti-regime protest rallies in the past months, chanting slogans against the regime and calling for overthrowing the mullahs’ rule. The poison attacks could thus give the government a tool to suppress the children and force parents to keep their children at home.

And finally, the scale of the attacks and their widespread nature and consistency could not be caused by rogue elements or terrorist groups. It needs orchestration and organization of a scale that could go unnoticed by security forces only if they were directly involved.

The poison attacks only indicate a desperate regime struggling against the continuous wave of protests calling for change.

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